MURRAY Bridge trainer Michael Hickmott was already excited about Unbreakable’s chances for the Darwin Cup next Monday – but he has even more reason to be now.
In a massive coup for the annual event, star jockey Blake Shinn will ride Hickmott’s four-year-old gelding in the $200,000 race over 2000m.
A Sydney premiership winner in 2007-08, Shinn’s biggest wins are the 2008 Melbourne Cup on Viewed for trainer Bart Cummings and the 2016 Golden Slipper on Capitalist.
“Blake has a relationship with John O’Neill who is the owner of Unbreakable,” Hickmott said.
“The standard of the local riders up here is very good but this is great news.”
Shinn returned to Australia last month after an exceptional five-week stint at Chicago’s Arlington Park, where he rode 11 winners.
Hickmott will also have William Pike ride Lieder in the Darwin Cup – a horse he was already extremely confident about.
Pike is a two-time Perth Cup-winning jockey.
“We didn’t have a connection with Will, but I desperately wanted him to ride Lieder,” Hickmott said.
“He’s just a great rider and that horse is a big chance now.”
Lieder has steadily built form during the Darwin Cup Carnival, finishing fifth in the Ben & Sarah For Breakfast BM75 on July 8 and third in the Million Dollar Fish Buntine Handicap (1900m) on July 22.
Unbreakable won the ROANT Gold Cup on July 1.
Despite the good news for the Hickmott stable, the three-time Darwin Cup winner batted away any suggestions of favouritism for Unbreakable or Lieder.
Instead, he said Chief Minister’s Cup and Metric Mile victor Royal Request, for trainer Neil Dyer, is the one to beat.
“Whoever beats him will win the Cup,” Hickmott said.
“That horse seems bulletproof – everything about him impresses me. He’s handling the track up here well.”